Social Justice & Technology Revisited

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I have written before about how technology often makes life easier for a large number of the population while simultaneously disenfranchising others.  The good news is that this does not have to be the case.

The example I used in the past was the Starbucks App which allows customers to use, gain rewards for, and reload their account on their smartphone, while making it more cumbersome and difficult to tip baristas.  This again does not have to be an inevitability, but requires Starbucks to enhance the functionality of its App.

So I was pleased to discover (special thanks to my student Marissa for bringing this to my attention) this week that come Wednesday March 19th, Starbucks will be rolling out an update to their smartphone App which allows just that.  You can read more about it at Forbes here.  You will be able to download the update from places like iTunes, and include your tip easily.

While some may dismiss this as a first-world problem, I cannot emphasize how powerful a shift I consider this to be in terms of workers’ rights in the service sector.  I am convinced it comes in part as a result of advocacy by and for workers, and sets the bar higher and yet attainable for corporations to maximize their value to customers while not disenfranchising their employees.

How can you help advocate for social justice in the technology you use?  First, simply by mindful usage.  Take a few minutes today to open your smartphone and make note of the Apps you use most frequently.  Next, ask yourself, who, if anyone is disadvantaged by my using this App?  Just thinking about the connections can be a powerful mental exercise.  Notice how complicated it can get fairly quickly:  If I use Evernote frequently, I am less likely to write things down on paper, which may be good for the environment but may also disenfranchise industrial workers in paper mills.  Hold on, did I say that you had to stop using Evernote or lobby for paper mills?  No, I’m asking us to sit with the complexity of a problem here for a minute to see the larger systems at play.  Technology has always resulted in job loss for some even as it may provide workplace improvements or quality of life for others.  It’s when we don’t think about these things in a more complex way that we stop innovating social justice itself.

Part of what I’m trying to encourage us to see is that social justice, workers’ rights, unions, and any person or group committed to social justice needs to keep pace with innovation and in fact keep innovating themselves.  Technology always runs the risk of disenfranchising people, especially workers.  If the McCormick reaper in a few hours does the day’s job of three workers, what happens to those three workers?  We are still living in a capitalist society in the US, and it is unlikely that as technology improves and reduces the need for human workers that all of these people will be able to afford to turn their minds and lives to the pursuit of art and culture.  Everything isn’t always getting better for everyone in the current system, and we are seeing overcrowding in occupations ranging from factory to legal work.

If social justice advocates, and social workers are to continue to help the disenfranchised, they are going to need to keep pace with technological developments and continue to think innovatively about 21st century equity in complex and sustained ways.  And by the way, thinking, “the gap is just going to get wider, the social fabric is unraveling,” is not an example of innovative thinking, but defeatism that exempts us from the work of innovation.

This brings me back to my social work colleagues, and my continued urging for them to keep pace with emerging technologies, especially if you are touting the concept of social innovation.  Social innovation without leveraging emerging technology will ultimately lead to future disenfranchisement.  If you have a social innovation department in your social work program that doesn’t leverage technology you are not being socially innovative.  I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I know that the answer to social injustice will inevitably need to integrate emerging technology into it.

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The Changing Landscape of Social Work

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Recently I had the great opportunity to be a scholar-in-residence at The University at Buffalo’s School of Social Work.  For three days I met with students, faculty and staff to speak about emerging technologies ranging from Twitter to video games.  During one morning, Dean Nancy Smyth and I sat down for a series of informal discussions around various topics, and the University was kind enough to let me share these videos with you.  If you want to learn more about how I can come to your institution to do the same thing, please contact me.

How to Use Social Media and Technology to Develop a Personal Learning Network:

 

 

If I Don’t Use Social Media and Technology in Social Work Practice What Am I Missing?

 

 

Social Work is Changing:  Integrating Social Media and Technology Into Social Work Practice

 

 

 

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Mental Health: Yes, There’s an App for That..

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Nobody wants to be irrelevant, and many mental health practitioners want to try out new technologies like Apps, but how to choose?  Currently the App Store in iTunes makes available 835,440 different Apps, of which approximately 100,000 are categorized as lifestyle, medical or healthcare & fitness.  And Android users have just about as many to choose from according to AppBrain, which says there are a whopping 858870 as of today.  With so many to look at, how can a clinician keep current?  Hopefully we can help each other.

Instead of writing the occasional “Top 10 Post,” I’m setting up a site for you to visit and review different Apps.  I’ll review some too, and hopefully by crowd sourcing we can get a sense of what are some of the best.  I’ll need Android users to weigh in heavy, as I will be test-driving Apple products alone.

Why have I decided to do this?  Several reasons, the complicated one first:

1. Web 2.0 is interactive.  We forget that, even those of us who are trying to stay innovative.  We keep thinking we need to get on the podium and deliver lectures, information, content.  And to a degree that is true, but we can easily slide back to the old model of doing things.  That’s what you see in a lot of our well-intentioned “Top 10 App” posts and articles.  Recently I found myself trying to explain on several occasions why doing a lecture or post on the best Apps for Mental Health didn’t sit right with me.  Part of it was because Apps are put out there so fast, and then surpassed by other apps, that it becomes a bit like Project Runway:  “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out.”

I was getting trapped behind that podium again, until I realized that we don’t need another post about the top 10 mental health apps, we need an interactive platform.  I need to stop acting as if I’m the only one responsible for delivering content, and you need to break out of the mold of passive recipient of information.  I’m sure that many of my colleagues have some suggestions for apps that are great for their practice, and I’m hoping that you all share.  Go to the new site, check out some of the ones I mentioned, and then add your own reviews.  Email me some apps and I’ll try ’em and add them to the site.  Let’s create something much better than a top 10 post with an expiration date, let’s collaborate on a review site together.  Which brings me to:

2.  I want to change the world.  That is the reason I became a social worker, a therapist, and a public speaker.  I think ideas motivate actions, and actions can change the world. The more access people have to products that can improve their mental health, the better.  By creating a site dedicated solely to reviewing mental health applications, we can raise awareness about using emerging technologies for mental health, and help other people improve their lives.  Technology can help us, which brings me to:

3.  Technology can improve our mental health.  Yes, you heard it here.  Not, “we need to be concerned about the ethical problems with technology X,Y or Z.”  “Not, the internet is making us stupid,” or “video games are making people violent,” but rather an alternate vision:  Namely, that emerging technologies can allow more people more access to better mental health.  Let’s start sharing examples of the way technology does that.  There are Apps and other emerging technologies that can help people with Autism, Bipolar, Eating Disorders, Social Phobias, Anxiety, PTSD and many more mental health issues.  I can’t possibly catalog all those alone, so I’m hoping you’ll weigh in and let me know which Apps or tech have helped you with your own struggles.

Is this the new site, Mental Health App Reviews, a finished product?  Absolutely not.  What it will be depends largely on all of us.  This is how crowd sourcing can work.  This is how Web 2.0 can work.

If you want to contribute, just email me at mike@mikelanglois.com with the following:

  • App name
  • Screenshot if possible
  • Price
  • Link to App

and I’ll take it from there.  Please let me know if you are a mental health provider and or the product owner in the email as well.

You can also contribute by reviewing the Apps below that you use.  Be as detailed as possible, we’re counting on you!  And while you’re at it, follow us on Twitter @MHAppReviews

Saving Ideas

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Sometime, over 40,000 years ago, someone decided to put images of human hands on the cave pictured above.  It turned out to be a good idea.  This painting has given scientists information on life in the Upper Paleolithic, raised questions about the capacity of Neandrathal man to create art, and sparked debate about which species in the homo genus created it.  Other later cave paintings depict other ideas: Bulls, horses, rhinoceros, people.

I wasn’t there in the Paleotlithic but I doubt that the images we are seeing in caves were the first ones ever drawn.  I imagine that drawing images in sand and other less permanent media happened.  I suspect that the only reason we have cave paintings is because at some point somebody decided they wanted to be able to save their idea, to keep it longer or perhaps forever.

Every day, 7 billion of us have untold numbers of ideas.  So what makes a person decide that an idea is worth saving?  What makes us pause and make a note in our Evernote App or Moleskine journal?  What inspires us to make a video of our idea on YouTube or write a book?  We can’t always be sure that an idea is a “good” one or even what the criteria for a good idea is.  It usually comes down to belief.

In the past several centuries, the ability to save ideas was relegated to the few who were deemed skillful or divinely inspired.  Books were written in monasteries, then disseminated by printing presses, and as ideas became easier to save, more people saved them.  But, and this is very important, saving an idea doesn’t make it a good idea, just a saved one.  Somewhere along the line we began to get the notion that only a few select people were capable of having a good idea, because only a few select people were capable of saving them.  Even in the 21st century, many mental health professionals and educators cling to the notion that peer-reviewed work published in journals is the apex of quality.  If it is written, if it was saved by a select few it must be a good idea.  If you have any doubt of what I’m talking about just Google “DSM V.”

With each leap in human technology comes the power to save more ideas and then spread them.  People who talk about things going viral often forget that an idea has to be saved first, and that in essence something going viral is really a form of society saving an idea.  If anything, technology has improved the democratization of education and ideas.

This makes many of us who grew up in an earlier era nervous and frustrated.  We call the younger generation self-absorbed rather than democratizing.  We grumble, “what makes you think you should blog about your day, take photos of your food, post links to cute kitten videos?”  We may even take smug self-satisfaction that we aren’t contributing to the static.  I think that’s a bad idea, although it clearly has been saved from earlier times.

40,000 years from now, our ideas may take on meanings we never anticipated, like cave drawings.  Why were kittens so important to them?  In the long view I think we remember that people have to believe they have an good idea before they take the leap of faith to save it.  The citizens of the future may debate who saved kitten videos and why, but it will be taken as given that they must have been important to many of us.

What if everyone had the confidence to believe that they had an idea worth saving?  What if everyone had the willingness to believe that it just might be possible that their idea was brilliant?  Each semester I ask the students in my class to raise their hand if they think they can get an A- or higher in the class, and most do.  Then I ask them to raise their hand if they think they can come up with in an idea in this class that could change the world.  I’ve never had more than 3 hands go up.  That’s sad.

This is why I admire the millennials and older groups who take advantage of social media and put their ideas out there.  I doubt that they are all good ideas, but I celebrate the implicit faith it takes to save them.  Anyone, absolutely anyone at all, can have a good idea.  It may not get recognized or appreciated, but now more than ever it can get saved.  Saving an idea is an act of agency.  It is a political act.  Saving an idea is choosing to become just a bit more visible.  On the most basic level saving an idea is a celebration and affirmation of the self.  Think about that, and dare to jot down, draw, record or otherwise save one of your ideas today.  I just did and it feels great.  Then maybe you can even share it with someone else.

What makes a person decide an idea is worth saving?

You do.

 

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You’re The Reason Building Your Business Is So Hard

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Recently I was asked by a student to take some time and talk with her about her career options. She was trying to plan for her career post-graduate school, and struggling some with the vicissitudes of a graduate program in mental health. Such vicissitudes, once you commit to studying in the field of your choice, are out of your control. Students are often told what to learn, how to learn it, where to intern, and what kind of internship they can have. Want to learn psychodynamic theory? Sorry, school X doesn’t believe in it, so if you go there there may be one or no mention of it in your foundation work. Want to work at a leading hospital? Sure, you and 100 other students from the schools in your area; so apply, but don’t count on it. So, in graduate school, students like my student often have to like it or leave it.

This disempowers the budding therapist in many ways, not the least of which is that it conditions her to take her cues from others even beyond graduate school. It is hard to learn that you have the power to build your career and business after having been taught that the schools, placements and agencies are the ones who make the rules.

If you are out of school, you have more power than you think, and therefore more responsibility than you may want.

Many therapists want to avoid taking responsibility for their businesses. No sooner do we get out of a school or agency then we start to recreate an agency of our own devising. We create our own set of disempowering expectations, and there are usually plenty of people around to collude with us in this. I call them disempowermentors.

Disempowermentors in the mental health field are the ones that tell you all sorts of rules about how things work. They’ll tell you you can’t build a practice without being on insurance panels. They’ll tell you you need to work in our field for 10 years to build up a reputation before you can open a practice. They’ll tell you you should sublet a few hours and not jump in to a full-time practice. None of these things are true, but most of them are usually fear-based. They are usually the way the disempowermentors did things, either because they recreated their own inner agency and/or because they listened to disempowermentors themselves. If my student isn’t careful, she’ll end up listening to one of these folks, and set herself and her future business back a few years. She’ll have a structure, but it will be one that restricts her choices rather than increases them.

Take a look at who you are listening to: Are they disempowermentors? (One sure clue is that disempowermentors almost always look more tired than happy, more miserable than inspirational.)

One example of someone whom the disempowermentors would say is doing everything wrong is my consultee Lindsey Walker. Lindsey is going right into private practice after finishing graduate school. Lindsey is working on building a full-time practice. Lindsey isn’t in any insurance networks. And things are starting to happen for her. This is largely because Lindsey is very creative and responsible. She has started a blog, Waking The Image, which combines photography and essays on psychodynamic theory. She also just finished writing her first e-book Love Over Trauma: Healing With Your Partner on helping couples recover when one or both of them has trauma in their past.

None of these projects occur in a separate pocket universe: Lindsey works daily on these projects and other tasks that we come up with in the course of our work together. I send her a list of things she’s committed to, and within the next several days she does them. That is why her work is slowly but surely getting noticed and her practice growing. She isn’t waiting passively in her office sublet for the phone to ring. She isn’t waiting passively for insurance panels to accept her, or accepting the fee they want to pay her. Lindsey knows that she is responsible for the success of her business. She is investing time and money into building it, not subletting 2 hours somewhere cheap and hoping she’ll get a client or two after her “day job.” Lindsey made the decision to make building her business her day job. I should also mention that she is not independently wealthy, and that this venture has been a risky and courageous one.

So take a look at your career. Are you happy with it? Is being safe worth it? Are you investing time and money into building your business? Are you taking risks?

If you answered no to those questions, then you are the reason building your business is so hard. You aren’t in grad school any more. You choose to apply for a job, accept it, or strike out on your own. You choose whether to make building your business your day job and make whatever sacrifices you need to make to do that. You decide whether or not to invest in an office, a consultant, or other business expenses. You decide to wait passively for someone to pay you a fraction of your fee, or actively market and network for hours and days and weeks. You decide whether to contribute a blog, book, talk or idea to the world like Lindsey; or not to contribute anything without permission from somebody else. You decide whether to confuse worry with effort and wishing with doing.

Lots of things are possible for you. Owning your own business is neither easy or safe, but it is possible. It takes lots of effort and doing. It’s risky, but no one is making you do it or holding you back. It’s up to you to decide.

 

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Twenty-Three Apps for the 21st Century Therapist

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Mobile applications have a lot to offer therapists.  Whether you are looking for games to play with patients, productivity or billing tools, or something to help you research, there’s an app for that.  Many supervisees, students and consultees have asked me lately what apps I recommend, so I thought it was about time I gave you a list sampling those I find most helpful and fun.  Many are cheap or free, and available for the iPad, iPhone and Android:

1. GoToMeeting

Planning on doing online therapy?  Gotomeeting has desktop and app versions of videoconferencing software, which is HIPAA-compliant.  The app version allows you to attend meetings, but the meeting needs to be initiated from the desktop version.  I use this program for the majority of my online sessions with patients and supervisees.

2. IbisMail

If you are juggling multiple roles or a portfolio career, or simply want better therapeutic boundaries, this is the email program for you.  Installed on your iPad or iPhone, this program allows you to set up automatic filters, so you can sort through junk mail.  But it also allows you to set up folders for patient emails, so that you can have them all in one place.  Then it is up to you to decide when you review your patient communications, rather than have everything coming through one inbox.  Supports multiple email accounts.

3. Flipboard

If you are wanting to add value to your twitter followers or consultees, this is a great app.  It provides a slick intuitive interface on your mobile device that pulls in stories from feeds you set, from you Facebook account to the Harvard Business Review blog.  When you find something you want to share, the app allows seamless sharing on a variety of social media platforms.  In a few minutes you can browse and share selected readings and keep up to date on current interests.

4. Bamboo Paper

This app allows you to write notes on your iPad.  It is great for note-taking during evaluations, and allows you to send these notes to Evernote as a .pdf or email yourself a copy.  NOTE: Doing this is not HIPAA-compliant if you have distinguishing identifying information in the note, so I recommend you refrain from using the cloud-based features if you have any concerns about patient privacy.  If you are using it for workshops or other personal uses, however, no worries.  And if you keep the notes local to your password-protected device, it can be a great tool.

5. Evernote

I was hesitant to add Evernote due to the recent hack they experienced, but their quick and effective response to this have actually made me more confident that this cloud-based note-taking device is still useful.  It is NOT HIPAA-compliant, so I don’t use it for patient notes ever.  That said, it is great for dictating notes about workshops, blog ideas, snapping pictures of things for study aids, and a myriad of other useful tasks.  The notes synch up between every device you have them on, so you’re always up to date.

6. iAnnotate

One of my favorites.  iAnnotate allows you to mark up .pdf files on your mobile device.  If you need to sign off on a document someone emails or faxes you, no more scanning, printing, scanning again stuff.  And if you are a student or researcher this is a must-have, as it supports highlighting and annotating research articles.  Synchs with Mendeley and Dropbox so you can store your research library with notes online.

7. 1Password

How can you make your mobile device more secure and use your web-browser more safely?  This may be the answer for you.  1Password installs on your mobile or desktop, and allows you to save and generate extremely long and secure passwords.  The level of encryption can be adjusted for the most cautious of password protectors.  This program also synchs over the cloud so that you always have the up-to-date passwords on all of your devices.  Even more convenient, it can bookmark your sign-in pages.  All of this is secured by double-password protection on your iPhone.  Stop using the same lame password for everything and start generating unique hard-to-crack ones for true HIPAA-compliance.

8. Mendeley

One part social network, one part research library,  Mendeley allows you to store research articles and annotations online and on your device.  It allows you to network with other colleagues to see what they are researching, share articles, and store all of your articles in one place.  Often it can even pull up the bibliographic entry from the web just by reading the .pdf metatag.  Geeky research goodness!

9. PayPal

This is one option for billing patients and paying vendors that is good to have.  You can invoice by email, transfer money to your bank account, and keep track of online payments on the website.  The app works well in a pinch if you aren’t ready to swipe cradit cards in your office.  NOTE, each transaction has a small fee.

10. Prezi

I’d love to see more therapists using this one.  This presentation software allows you to create dynamic visual presentations on your computer or mobile device.  You could use it to convert boring DBT worksheets to a dynamic online presentation.  Prezi supports importation from powerpoint, and provides free online hosting of your prezis as well as tons of templates and tutorials.  If you do public speaking, upload some of your prezis on your LinkedIn profile to give potential clients a vivid sense of your work.  You can see a sample here, but bear in mind that it would make more sense if I was there giving the talk.  🙂

11. DCU

I haven’t been to a bank in over 2 years, and this app is the reason why.  Digital Credit Union’s Mobile Branch PC, allows me to deposit checks from patients via my iphone.  Just login, scan the checks, and in 10 minutes you’ve done your deposits for the week.  Meanwhile, the online interface allows you to keep track of your spending easily and export to Excel or accounting software if you need to.  Great for tax season!

12. Dropbox

Dropbox is a great and free way to store non-private information on the cloud.  The app allows you to email items easily, so I use it to email intake instructions to patients, press kits to people inquiring about keynotes, and a number of other items.  I also keep all my DBT worksheets on it so that they can be sent quickly and easily to patients should they be feeling in need of extra support between sessions but not acute enough to warrant hospitalization.

13. TED

This app allows you to stay inspired and experience innovation daily, by beaming TED talks to your mobile device from the offical TED site.  You can favorite, search, and share your favorite ones, or hit “Inspire me” for random ideas.  As I wrote this, I was listening to Amanda Palmer speak on “The art of asking.”  This app can allow you access to ideas outside of the filtered professional bubble with therapists often get ourselves stuck in.

14. Line2

Want a second phone line on your iPhone?  This app allows you to have one.  You can port your practice number to it, and stop carrying two cell phones.  At $9.95 a month you can have unlimited US/Canada calling, at $14.95 a month you get a toll-free number and virtual fax.

15. CardMunch

Tired of keeping all those business cards from a shoebox?  CardMunch allows you to snap photos of a colleague’s business card and convert it to a digital one which it stores in your contacts.  Synchs with LinkedIn.

16. Micromedex

Keeping up-to-date on medications is pretty daunting, but this app, with frequent updates, helps you keep track od a medication, its Black Box warnings, contraindications, drug interactions, adverse effects, alternate names, standard dosages and more.

And now for some games!

17. Plants Vs. Zombies

This game is great for helping patients who want to learn about strategy and pacing.  Choose a certain number of plant types to plant in order to stop the zombies from overrunning your backyard.

18. Zombies, Run!

Continuing my zombie kick, this game is better than any pedometer I’ve ever used.  The more you walk or run, the further you progress in this game of fleeing zombies.  Go on multiple missions, play with friends, and even train for a 5K.

19. Kingdom Rush

This game is a classic tower defense game, which helps patients learn to make choices, control impulse spending as part of a winning strategy, and work on pacing, problem-solving and a host of other cognitive abilities.

20. Minecraft Pocket Edition

This mobile app version of Minecraft is a great way to connect with a patient’s gaming, and the app allows you to play together on a wireless LAN, so you can fight for survival or create an amazing construction right from your office together.

21. Flower Chain

This is a completely nonviolent game that focuses on setting up a chain reaction of flower blooms in order to complete each level.  Great eye candy, and a fun game for clearing the mind after a difficult session.

22. Trainyard

This puzzle game requires you to plan out and design multiple railroad tracks.  The trick is to set them up and pace them so that they all meet their goals without running into each other.  Great prompt for talking with adolescents about how they can learn to negotiate peer relationships in the same way, or learn to compromise with adults in order to get along with them.

23. Lavalanche

This puzzle game is reminiscent of Jenga, in that you have to dismantle a tower without letting the Tiki Idol fall into lava.  Another great one for executive function capacity-building around sequencing, planning and problem-solving.

So there you go, give some of these a try and let me know what you think.  Have a favorite app that you want to share?  Please feel free to comment and include the link.

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What It Means To Make A Referral

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To speak with a relative stranger about the most intimate details of one’s life is an incredibly daunting prospect for many psychotherapy patients.  No matter how guarded a patient may be, she or he is daring to be incredibly vulnerable as well.  Often the only thing that can make this beginning possible is an appropriate therapy referral.  And yet never before has it been so easy for us to make a horrible or thoughtless referral to these brave souls.

It was hard enough when managed care began to shape the behavior of therapists to focus on insurance as being the number one or only criteria to make a referral.  But now technology has made it even worse.  Readers of this blog know that I am a great fan of technology in general and social networking in particular, so it may come as a surprise to hear me say this; an explanation is in order.

Recently I began to get emails from various therapists with the subject heading “Are you accepting new referrals?” or “Referral for you.”  In the past I have found those questions a nice compliment.  But these emails were actually invitations to join something called Referral Key, a small business referral network.  The message went like this:

If you’re taking on new clients, I’d like to include you in my private referral network to send you business leads.

Please accept my invitation below. Thanks!

Here’s the problem, none of the people who sent me these emails knew me in a professional capacity as far as I can tell.  We had never shared a patient, attended a fellowship together, worked at the same agency or supervised trainees at the same place.  The only qualification these people would know I had if I accepted their invite was that I wanted more business.

That’s not how you make a good referral.

Look, referring a patient to someone is risky enough when you do know the therapist or the patient.  Risky because we have never experienced what it is like to sit with the colleague as a patient.  But at least we have some other information to go on.  The nature of therapy requires that we be as thoughtful about referrals as possible.

In my experience with trainees and consulting to therapists I have come across a lot of marketing information on how to get referrals, but not a lot of clinical info on how to make them.  So here are my suggestions on when and how to make a good referral.  Keep in mind that these tips are a combination of my experience, opinions and pet peeves.  Between emails, listservs, social networks, etc., I see a lot of different ways therapists do it.

1. Don’t treat a referral as a consolation prize.  If you get a call from a patient who says they were referred to you by their insurance, and you are not accepting new patients, don’t feel pressured to offer them another name.  Ideally, if you have time to offer them an initial consult you may get enough information to make a suitable referral.  If they can come in, you can discuss their presenting problems, therapist preferences in terms of gender, experience, etc.  If you offer free phone consultations (which I discourage in general,) you can speak with them over the phone at enough length to get a sense of the patient’s needs.  For a thoughtful referral, my experience is that this takes 30-45 minutes.  looking online and saying, “Jane Doe appears to be in your network and I’ve heard good things about her” may be sufficient to assuage your conscience but is not sufficient to be a solid referral.  Jane may be a whiz at adult ADHD, but if the patient was referred to you for your expertise in PSTD you may have no idea whether Jane has interest or expertise in both.

2. Avoid referring to therapists who “do it all.”  I never refer to a therapist who treats ages 3-80 for issues ranging the breadth of the DSM-V.  The USDA deals with chunks of meat on a conveyor belt, we don’t.

3. Disclose the extent or limitation of your knowledge of the referral to the patient.  If you trained with the person and think highly of them from the way they discussed their work, say that.  If they are someone who responded to a listserv request you made and you know nothing about them or their work, say that.  Patients trust us to give them expert opinions, and if your expertise is limited the burden of disclosing that is on you.

4. When soliciting a referral, keep it brief and salient.  Don’t pepper the listserv or discussion boards with identifying information or your subjective impressions.  Age, presenting problem and therapist preferences (gender, takes X insurance, CBT) are enough.  So often I see referrals for someone seeking a therapist for a patient who is “a lovely, very insightful young man who would be a delight to work with.”  This is more of a sales pitch than salient data.  None of your colleagues are probably hoping to work with horrid, clueless people who are a misery to work with, now are they?  Nor do we really need to know that the referral is for the daughter of a good friend of yours.  If this is a referral that will involve collaboration (such as one member of a couple you are seeing) by all means offer to share more information if the referral works out.  But in the meantime, just the facts.

5. When possible, get feedback and use it to inform your future referrals.  If you referred to a colleague to treat one of your individual patients for couples therapy, ask them how it is going or went.  Please take this information seriously and do not dismiss it as transference.  It may be transference, but remember your alliance is with the patient and erring on the side of caution.  In my time I have had folks give me feedback that the people I referred to didn’t listen, feel asleep during a session, took their spouse’s side, smelled of alcohol, and a myriad of other concerning statements.  Do I know for a fact that any of these stories were true? No.  Do I plan on risking referring a patient to one of those people again, absolutely not.  If the person you refer to is difficult to reach or collaborate with, bear that in mind for future referrals.

6. Talk to your colleagues.  Ask them whether they are taking referrals, or what kind of patients they see.  Ask them what their expertise is if you are unsure.  Send them an email with brief and salient information asking if this sounds like someone they’d enjoy working with.  And absolutely send them a note if you give their name as a possible referral.

7. If you don’t have or want to take the time to make a solid referral, then don’t make one at all.  Too often our colleagues try to come up with a name rather than say, “I’m sorry I can’t help you.”  Our graduate programs rarely train us to say that.  But better you say that than misunderstand what a referral truly is.  A referral is a thoughtful recommendation to a patient for a clinical treatment of serious concerns.  If you don’t have time to give it sustained thought, understand the concerns or help needed, don’t give a referral.

Above all, please keep in mind that social networks are great for many things, and referring patients is not one of them.  If the only thing you know about a therapist and their work is that they are in your “network,” what kind of qualification is that?  Don’t confuse networking, marketing, or chatting with referring someone to therapy.  If you were looking for a therapist and someone said, “I got an email the other day from someone saying they are taking on new patients,” would that be sufficient for you to make an appointment?  Just because I’m in your Contacts or LinkedIn group doesn’t mean I am any good at therapy in general or for a patient in particular.  I could be a complete wingnut.

Do you really want to take that chance with someone’s mental health care?

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Happy New Year!

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As we start the New Year I wanted to share a quote I think applies to you:

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

— Arthur Schopenhauer

Going into the New Year, entertain the possibility that you are a genius.  Whether you are a gamer playing first-person shooters, a therapist trying to build your private practice, an educator trying to reach students, or someone trying to live a good life, ask yourself:  What are the targets you can see that other people can’t?

Don’t expect praise, people will think you are crazy for shooting into thin air.  You may be bullied, insulted or ignored, but remember you are not alone.  Find that person or group who believes in you even though they can’t see your target.  Those are true people of faith in your life.

Does this mean you’ll be coasting?  Nope.  It takes practice allowing yourself to look for things invisible to most.  It takes constant effort to hone your talent.

If you play Minecraft, think of 2013 as your new sandbox.  2013 is loaded with things you’ve not discovered yet.  Any rock could conceal diamonds or ore.  You will encounter creepers when you least expect them, lose things and have setbacks.  But you can opt for multiplayer, and build in community.  All of the materials are there for you.  You may think you are starting with nothing, but you always have the tools to build tools.

If you keep at it you can change the world.

Whether you are a regular visitor or a loyal follower of this blog, thank you.  In case you missed them, below are the 5 most popular posts from this year:

 

Dopey About Dopamine: Video Games, Drugs, & Addiction

Epic Mickey and Frittering

Gamer Therapy

How to Get Taken Seriously as a Mental Health Professional

Skyrim, Stealing & Sadism

 

Like this post?  I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info?  And, for only $2.99 you can buy my book.  You can also  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

Should Therapists & Social Workers Post Videos of Themselves on YouTube?

 

 

Like this post? There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book. I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

Contributing

 
You can sign up for Extra-Life here.

Like this post? There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book. I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!